Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Full Face CPAP Mask
Sleep apnea — a condition affecting millions of Americans — is characterized by a temporary loss of breath during sleep. Most apnea episodes last 20 to 40 seconds, but people with the condition may experience up to 100 or more episodes per night.
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is caused by physical impediments in the breathing passages that restrict air circulation; and central sleep apnea (CSA), which occurs when the brain cannot properly transmit signals to the breathing muscles.
There is no known cure for sleep apnea, but many patients alleviate their symptoms with continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy. This therapy involves CPAP machines, devices that draw in outside air, humidify it, and pressurize it before delivering the air to sleepers via a connective hose and face mask.
This guide will discuss full face CPAP masks, one of the three main types. Read on to learn more about full face masks in terms of construction and pricing, how they differ from nasal cradle and nasal pillow masks, and prescription requirements for first-time buyers.
Designs and Features of CPAP Full Face Masks and CPAP Machines
Components: As the name implies, CPAP full face masks are designed to fit snugly over the user’s nose and mouth. Most full face masks feature five primary components:
- The frame, which refers to the breathing apparatus.
- The cushion, which refers to the membrane around the frame that creates a more comfortable fit for the wearer.
- The elbow port, so named because it is shaped in a right angle, is an opening that attaches to the connective hose leading to the generator.
- The headgear, which refers to the straps used to secure the frame to the wearer’s head.
An airtight seal is required over the nose and mouth for effective air delivery. To ensure the mask is not uncomfortable, full face masks models feature extra cushioning around the perimeter that maintains the seal while also providing a more comfortable fit. The cushion may be made from different materials, such as cloth, gel, silicone, or foam. The cushion is usually replaceable.
The elbow port may be longer or shorter. Additionally, some elbow sports may be swiveled 360 degrees; this allows the mask wearer to adjust their sleep position without compromising the connection to the hose.
Headgear straps are located at the jaw, and wrap around the back of the head to connect at the base of the neck. Additional straps may wrap around the forehead and connect in the same place; this is known as forehead support. The straps are secured with buckles, ball-and-socket joints, or hook-and-loop closures to ensure they won’t come undone during the night. Some models feature a dial that allows wearers to adjust how tight or loose the mask feels in small increments; both straps will tighten or loosen simultaneously as the dial is turned.
Sizes: Full face mask frames are usually available in Small, Medium, and Large sizes to accommodate users with different facial dimensions; the headgear may be sized differently based on the size of the frame. Some models are also available in dedicated male and female designs, as well as those made for users with relatively small or wide faces.
It’s important to note that any type of face mask will be compatible with most CPAP machines, provided the hose offers a secure connection between the mask and the generator. Furthermore, the mask has no bearing on the airflow rate, humidifier capacity, and factors related to other components of the machine. For most, mask choice comes down to two factors: comfort and budget.
Care: Cleaning full face masks is fairly straightforward: simply apply an alcohol wipe to the interior and exterior of the mask, as well as the straps. Never, under any circumstances, should a CPAP full face mask be washed or laundered in a machine. The cushion and complete mask should be replaced periodically (unless the cushion is not replaceable); Medicare allows users to replace the cushion every three months, and to replace the mask every six months.
Pricing: Although price-points vary and some models are available for as little as $55 to $60, most CPAP full face masks cost between $80 and $150. Please note that full face masks are only available with a doctor’s prescription.
Now let’s look at CPAP machines. Like the face masks, CPAP machines are only available with a doctor’s prescription, and cannot be purchased over the counter. If you have sleep apnea, please discuss CPAP machines and other options with your physician.
Irrespective of the mask, CPAP machines feature the following components:
- Airflow generator and fan: The generator and motorized fan are housed in a small compartment that typically measures about 10 inches long, six inches wide, and six inches high (dimensions vary by model). When the machine is turned on, the generator/fan will suck in air from the room and pressurize it.
- Humidifier: Some CPAP machines have built-in humidifiers, while other models have humidifier attachments. In either case, this component is filled with distilled water to humidify the air before it is delivered to the user. The humidifier may hold anywhere from 300 to 450 milliliters (mL) of water — but some CPAP machines do not utilize a humidifier at all.
- Air filter: The filter collects dust and other allergens to help purify the air. Filters are always replaceable — and should be replaced regularly in order to ensure the air is clean and free of contaminants
- Connective hose: This component connects the generator box to the face mask at the elbow port. It is usually made of transparent plastic, and measures five to six feet in length.
The final component is the face mask, which is sold separately from the CPAP machine.
The operating procedure for a CPAP machine is as follows:
1. Place the machine on a flat, level surface that comfortably reaches the sleeper’s face using the connective hose. Never set a CPAP machine anywhere that presents a risk of falling during the night.
2. To power the machine, plug it into the nearest AC outlet.
3. Make sure the humidifier is filled with distilled water; top off as needed.
4. Secure the connective hose to both the face mask and the generator.
5. Turn on the machine; it should be ready to use immediately.
6. Adjust the settings as needed during the night.
CPAP machines deliver air at a prescribed rate based on the user’s settings; a doctor can help determine the best airflow rate based on the patient’s individual apnea diagnosis. The airflow output of a CPAP machine is measured in centimeters of water, or cmH20. Apnea patients generally need an airflow rate of 6 to 14 cmH20, and most CPAP machines can deliver anywhere from 4 to 20cmH20.
Full Face Masks vs. Other CPAP Mask Types
Next, let’s look at how full face masks compare to other CPAP mask options. In addition to full face masks, CPAP machine users may choose from nasal cradle and nasal pillow mask types. The table below lists similarities and differences between the four most common CPAP mask designs.